Friday, 10 August 2018

Farmoor: 9th August - a Tale of Two visits


Following my moderately successful mid-week Farmoor morning visit a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try again today. I arrived around 08:30 to a grey and almost chilly reservoir - what a contrast to the recent enduring period of stifling hot conditions!

However the poorer weather didn't seem to have led to improved birds - in fact the reverse as the customary walk across the causeway produced only three Dunlin and two Common Sands. However, I then first heard and then saw a Yellow Wagtail that briefly landed behind me but it was very flighty and off in a moment.

Of these, from past experience I knew the latter to be very wary and almost impossible to get good photos of. I'd spent some time on my previous visit getting shots of the former and wasn't in the mood to try again. So I pressed on to Buckthorn Meadow and the Shrike Meadow hide which was devoid of dragonfly interest due to the cooler conditions. A Kingfisher from the hide briefly raised my interest when it first appeared in flight. It then reappeared and settled in a nearby tree - but in a position completely obscured by leaves. It was better placed from a different position along the hide but it clearly detected my movement and was off in a flash.

Pinkhill Hide wasn't productive at all, so I returned along the causeway, to find the Dunlin had departed leaving only the Common Sands. Remembering Ewan's recent tip about the causeway hide, I thought I'd try it and see if either of them would approach it, given they seemed to be preferring the F1 side of the causeway. This tactic eventually produced a result, albeit of a somewhat distant bird. At least there is almost no sign of the sloping concrete, which is the unwanted signature of many of  my Farmoor wader photos.

Common Sand from the causeway hide

Thereafter, just as I had reached the eastern end of the causeway, a Redshank flew in and landed half way along. I had no inclination to chase back up the causeway to try for a photo, as they, like Common Sands, as generally pretty wary. Still things were clearly moving through...

I thought that was it for Farmoor for the time being, but back at home at just before 5pm, I suddenly noticed the Oxon Blog announcing the surprising presence of a Roseate Tern back at Farmoor, found by Jeremy Dexter! This was shortly followed by a text from Badger saying the same thing. 

As this would be a county tick for me, it didn't take long to put everything back in the car and head back whence I had returned from only a few hours early. I arrived at about 17:30, and came across Jeremy departing who provided some reassurance that the bird was still present (or at least it had been when he left). A good start, but when I got up onto the eastern side of Farmoor there seemed some confusion among the assembled birders as to where the Roseate was! Someone was indicating a nearby juvenile perched close in on a pontoon, but this was then dismissed as erroneous. I and the other newly arrived birders then headed off to the eastern end of causeway to find the County Recorder himself tracking the bird in his bins. It's high up and distant over there with some other terns was the general gist of his commentary! It took me sometime to spot the distant specs he was referring to, but I then got on to them and started tracking the slightly smaller one that he said was THE bird. 

I stuck on this for some time, while the birds danced around very distantly but without moving beyond the reservoir perimeter, we thought. After several minutes the birds started coming lower and getting closer. Suddenly the Roseate flew right towards us and went past and landed distantly on the tower off the eastern side of F1. Here it remained for some time, but it was so distant only record shots were possible. 

Distant Roseate Tern

I tried getting close by going back along the causeway and a little way down the eastern side, but the angle was all wrong and so decided to return to where I had been, with the others. In doing this however I was out of position when the bird then flew over the causeway and started fishing off the pontoons on the eastern side of F1. 

I had just about got back to where I had been when it seems the bird changed its mind and starting flying back towards F1. This time I was in the right position, and I think picked up the right bird by its distinctive call (a new one for me). I got just a few frames of the bird approaching the causeway, only one of which was in focus. So a lucky shot and a good conclusion to the day. Thereafter the rain started coming down and most birders, including myself departed.

Closer Roseate Tern

Friday, 27 July 2018

Farmoor: 26 July am


With my recently increased free time, I thought I'd try a speculative mid-week visit to Farmoor (probably almost my first ever!). Nothing much had been reported, but it seemed that autumn migration was just about getting underway, and the dragonflies might be good given the expected hot conditions.

Arriving shortly after the 08:00 opening time, the causeway was initially quiet until I got almost over to the far side, when I encountered an adult Dunlin, still with its black belly. I only managed distant shots, and then met Dai on his way back.

A few minutes later he was excitedly pointing out a splendid group of 10+ Black Terns that had just flown in! They appeared quite close to the causeway twice but then disappeared, so I carried on with my plan of trying the various hides and pools down by the Thames for dragonflies in the continuing very hot weather.

Buckthorn and Shrike Meadows were relatively quiet with only a few Brown Hawkers and 1-2  Black-tailed Skimmers seen.

Moving on, the path by the Thames along the back of Pinkhill was more productive, with this obliging Common Darter, closely followed by an amazing small area that had at least 10 Brown Hawkers all hawking around over it. There were also a couple of Southern Hawkers and 1-2 Emperors as well.
Common Darter 

The Pinkhill hide was pretty quiet with only a few relatively distant Brown Hawkers and one or two Reed/Sedge Warbler keeping well hidden except for the occasional short flight from one set of reeds to the next.

Returning along the causeway, the Dunlin was still present, so I set about trying to get a closer photo than before, this time with a more successful end result:

Dunlin

Thereafter, I was almost back at the car park when I came across a person with a 'scope who said the Black Terns were still present - but in the far SW corner of FII. So I made my way there, only to find they were quite distant, with six all resting a reasonable way out beyond the pontoon. Still it seemed worth some shots. When they flew off to feed it was unfortunately away from the shore, so I didn't get any flight shots.

Still a more successful visit than I was expecting!

Four of the six Black Terns

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Purples at Bernwood: 7 July

With the continuing hot weather, and Ewan's recent success with Purple Emperor photos it was clearly time to make an overdue trip to this remote corner of Oxfordshire.

I arrived around 10:45 to find a large group of butterfly enthusiasts all looking down at something on the main track not 50 m from the car park. Sure enough it proved to be a magnificent Purple Emperor but it was in the shade, unlike previously when I have always seen them in the sun.  So unfortunately there was no chance to attempt to get a photo showing the iridescent purple on both wings (something that has eluded me in the past). Also with so many people around it wasn't surprising that before long it took off and disappeared along the path. 

Purple Emperor - showing a hint of purple on the right wing, even in the deep shade.

Thereafter, the butterfly group departed along the path, leaving a small number of keen watchers, including Ewan, Winston and Stephen. However as the morning wore on nobody could find any more Emperors - with some speculating that it was too hot for them, which might explain why even when they showed, they were sticking to the shade. Also it seems their short season is probably coming to an end - as they have been on the wing for a whole 2 weeks!

Remaining interested centered around a path-side Oak tree just a little further down the path that held an amazing number of Purple Hairstreaks, some of which were coming low down, well within camera range. Not an easy subject though as they twisted and turned just frequently enough to hamper photography.


Purple Hairstreaks

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Silent skies: June 2018

For as long I can remember, sitting out in the garden on fine summer evenings has been to the accompaniment of House Martins overhead which used to breed up the road. In recent years numbers may have dwindled somewhat but this is year the recent fine weather only makes their absence more obvious and saddening. It is possible there is one pair left, but if there is, they are rarely seen or heard in our airspace.

House Martin - taken a long time ago!

That other charismatic aerial feeder, the Swift, is also notable by its absence this year. Going back just a few years, we frequently saw screaming parties of these. No longer sadly. There were a few in Wantage town centre this morning but we've seen only one this year over the garden, and that wasn't  screaming.

Swift at Farmoor - also taken some time ago

Are others noticing this silence as well in the county, I wonder?

Is this a one off or a sign of things to come as the world gets more and more hostile to our migrant birds?

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Colin revisited: 16 June

As it is pretty quiet in Oxon at present, and the forecast wasn't good enough for dragons, today I decided to head back to Thursley Common for another session with Colin, before he departs on the long and hazardous journey south to Africa and possibly back again next year.

Again I arrived mid-morning but this time I found he had already been seen at least once. I settled in for a longer stay that last time, when it had started to rain early afternoon. In the 7 hours or so I was present, he appeared three times. The supporting cast had dwindled to just one (ringed) male Redstart - that was clearly feeding young. Towards the end, I tried for some landing shots for the first time, assisted by another Colin and a younger helper!

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For a gallery with all my Cuckoo shots, go to here

Sunday, 3 June 2018

3rd June: Goring - Clubtail!

In the lovely fine weather, walked from Goring to the railway bridge and back. Had a brief view of a Clubtail somewhat before the bridge at SU603795. Unfortunately it flew off and vanished before I could get a good photo. Nevertheless, it is clearly a male (the secondary genitalia can be seen) and there is a tinge of green on the abdomen, which is a hint of maturity (not often seen)

Other species included many Banded Demoiselles, 1 Blue-tailed Damselfly and a few Red-eyed Damselflies.
Male Clubtail showing signs of maturity

For all the latest news on dragonflies in Oxon, go to this page on my website

Saturday, 2 June 2018

2nd June: Farmoor & Dry Sandford Pit

I headed to Farmoor this morning without much expectation of finding much about. Perhaps the odd wader lingering still on the causeway would at least be something.  Arriving at about 08:20, I was surprised to find various other birders hanging around - who explained it was Tom's walk today - being of course the first Saturday of the month.

Walking up onto the reservoir basin, a text was received from Dai saying there was a Black-necked Grebe at the SW corner of F II - of course as far from the car park as it is possible to get! But having already seen and photographed the earlier the BN Grebe in much better light than today, I thought I'd give it a miss and instead headed over the causeway, as per my original plan. Meanwhile everyome else on the walk headed off clockwise round FII. Reaching the far side of the causeway without seeing anything, I headed down to the Pinkhill Hide.

Just as I had opened the shutters,  I got a text from Badger (thanks mate!) saying the BN Grebe was actually a Slavonian. This was of much more interest, as it was sure to be in full summer plumage. So I decamped immediately and headed down to the southern end of F II, where the bird was well out from the bank. It then shortly flew off towards the east bank, before returning the pontoons somewhat later. Here it came a bit closer briefly but most of the time it was well out from the bank. After sometime it flew off N towards FI and I decided not to chase it any further. 

Slavonian Grebe

Getting back into the car, the weather, which had been very grey and overcast, started to brighten up, so my thoughts immediately turned to dragonflies. Dry Sandford Pit wasn't far off, and in the same general direction as home, so I thought I'd try there to see if any Southern Damselflies had emerged yet. Arriving there, it was good to find a few showing in the still fairly dull conditions. It then brightened up properly and several more emerged - there must have been at least ten present, possibly considerably more.

Southern Damselfly

For all the latest news on dragonflies in Oxon, go to this page on my website

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Thursley Common 12 May


Having read great accounts by others, I decided it was time to seek Colin's acquaintance first hand. A spot of Googling turned up firstly the name of the field he frequents and then a photo of it, with GPS coords attached. Bingo!

Thursley village appeared to me to be considerably closer than the Moat car park that everyone else seems to use. So that it where I headed, arriving at the recreation ground parking area in just over an hour and a half from home. I arrived mid morning as  I reckoned there was no need for a very early start, since Colin seems to appear from late morning.

From this car park it was only a 10-15min walk to the southern end of the field. Although the network of paths was a bit confusing, with the OS Mapfinder App on my phone, I couldn't get lost!  Arriving at the field, I immediately spotted a small group of photographers at the northern end, which included Early Birder, Mark. When I arrived there were about 8, but this increased to about 12 later.

With the day overcast, viewing direction wasn't too critical, but I chose a spot near the end of the line of photographers, with the sun behind me, to start with at least. I was told that yesterday, he hadn't shown at all, which didn't sound good. Also there had been no sightings already today - so I hadn't missed anything much so far.

Initially there was a plentiful supply of perches and meal worms but only distant Cuckoo calls. Still there were some other attractions to keep us happy while we waited - including both male and female Redstarts. At one point, both came really close - onto a log just in front of where I was waiting.  More usually though they came to the more distant perches.
Really close female Redstart 
More distant male
After a couple of hours or so, at around 11:45, a Cuckoo appeared and called from the top of a not too distant tree. It then flew over the site a couple of times, before coming down on to the perches, including the really close log. Wow! I've never been anything like this close to a Cuckoo and of course blasted away with the camera.
Colin fills the frame - no cropping on this one!

Really close views of Colin the Cuckoo! 
On a slightly more distant "nice" perch

After spending only about 10mins gorging himself on meal worms, Colin was off, and we were left with the supporting cast again, which now included a male Stonechat attracted in to all the free food.

Male Stonechat

A pair of delightful Woodlark also kept making an appearance in the area, although they were not coming into the perches and hence were never that close. But they gave some added interest.
One of the pair of Woodlark

As the time wore on, the weather as forecast starting getting worse and then it started to rain - which wasn't good! But then about 2 hours after his first showing, in came Colin again (c. 13:45). By this time, the keenest photographers had decided to reduce the number of perches to one - an old fence post supported by a small tripod. So this is what Colin spent most his time on for his second visit, when he wasn't feeding on the ground right in front of us (to within a few meters!).


Colin in the rain!

Very close! 

Again this visit was quite short (10-15mins) and when he departed, so did I. This proved to be a wise decision as the rain really started coming down only just as I got back to the car. Some of the others stayed a bit longer (without seeing Colin again), and got very wet, I heard later.

To see a mini gallery of all the above Cuckoo shots, at higher resolution go to this page on my website. 

Larger versions of the photos of the other species can be found here.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Farmoor (again) 14 May evening

With the bird still present and the sunny weather continuing, I couldn't resist another visit to Farmoor, this time after work in the early evening.

With the bird on the western side of FII, as expected, the light was from behind and superb! The only problems were the waves, which caused the bird to bob around all over the place, and its habit of diving repeatedly after only a few seconds above water.

But what a great bird - coming really close at times. Just shows that the odd photographer on the waters edge probably causes less of an issue than those standing on the track above.

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Black-necked Grebe

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Farmoor: 13 May am

Yesterday I went on a superb visit to Thursley Common in search of Colin the Cuckoo and friends which ended in rain, that became torrential on the way back. More of this later when I've sorted out all the pics I took!

Today was much warmer and sunnier and unusually for a Sunday I managed a little birding. A brief late morning visit to the south end of Farmoor II was successful in connecting with the Black-necked Grebe, along with several others.

Black-necked Grebe
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Sunday, 29 April 2018

Farmoor & Lark Hill: 28 April

Goto this page on my website for larger images of all of the photos below


A cold and damp day - what a contrast to only a week ago! With conditions like this, Farmoor seemed to be the place to go. I arrived just after the 08:00 opening time, as I prefer to do, and found a nice empty car park. As expected, the first view over FII produced large numbers of low flying hirundines - all 3 species, and my first Swifts of the year as well.

The grassy bank on the eastern side of FI had a Yellow Wagtail briefly, but it departed before I could get my camera on to it. Walking over the causeway there were up to about 9 very skittish Common Sands on the FII side, and a single summer plumaged Dunlin & LRP on the FI side. But they also departed before I could get a photo. At the end of the causeway, there were two more on Yellow Wags on FI but they too left in a hurry without a shot being taken. Frustrating!

Still there was a disconsolate row of Swallows along the edge of the wall, which allowed a closer approach, so I concentrated on the nearest bird.
Damp Swallow. Click here for a larger image

Thereafter I headed for the Pinkhill Hide to try my luck there. There was at least one Cuckoo about which made its presence known from time to time but only showed once or twice without coming close enough to have its photo taken. There was also a surprising group of 2 male Red-crested Pochards, 1 female and a male Tufted Duck joining in. They were restless, departing and re-appearing a few times, and once flew towards me and over the hide which provided this shot.
Red-crested Pochard fly-over

After spending some time here, without much else happening, I decided it was time to go, whereupon just as I was packing up a Kingfisher appeared and settled on a distant perch briefly. I just managed to get onto it before it departed. Always a bird to brighten up even the dullest day (which this was)!
Distant Kingfisher

I then headed back over the causeway meeting a number of arriving birders as I went. It later turned out that two Great Skuas were seen on Farmoor that day, and I have a nasty feeling I could have walked straight past them without noticing! But if I did, none of the arriving birders had seen them by then, either. Note to self - look more beyond the causeway in future, especially on the return leg!

In blissful ignorance of the skuas, I  headed to Lark Hill where the expected Wheatears were again in residence on the underground reservoir. This week I counted up to at least four, so I spent some time trying to get some photos of them. At one point, a nice male approached the boundary chain link fence quite closely and I managed to get this shot through the fence, without too many ill effects on image quality (after a bit of Photo-shopping that is).
Male Wheatear in the rain!

Even better at one point a female flew up onto the fence post closest to me and even stayed there while I got the camera onto to it. At this distance it completely filled the frame, and the close up is probably more effective than the whole bird.

Wheatear on fence post at Lark Hill
Crop of above
Goto this page on my website for larger images of all of the above.